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in their proper times and places, and turns them to the advantage of the person who is possessed of them. Without it, learning is pedantry, and wit impertinence : virtue itself looks like weakness ; the best parts only qualify a man to be more sprightly in errors, and active to his own prejudice.
Nor does discretion only make a man the master of his own parts, but of other men's. The discreet man finds out the talents of those he converses with, and knows how to apply them to proper uses. Accordingly, if we look into particular communities and divisions of men, we may observe that it is the discreet man, not the witty, nor the learned, nor the brave, who guides the conversation and gives measures to the society. A man with great talents, but void of discretion, is like Polyphemus in the fable, strong and blind, endued with an irresistible force, which for want of sight is of no use to him.
Though a man has all other perfections, and wants discretion, he will be of no great consequence in the world ; but if he has this single talent in perfection, and but a common share of others, he may do what he pleases in his particular station of life.
At the same time I think discretion the most useful talent a man can be master of; I look upon cunning to be the accomplishment of little, mean, ungenerous minds. Discretion points out the noblest ends to us, and pursues the most proper and laudable methods of attaining them. Cunning has only private selfish aims, and sticks at nothing which may make them succeed. Discretion has large and extended views, and like a well-formed eye, commands a whole horizon. Cunning is a kind of short-sightedness, that discovers the minutest objects which are near at hand, but is not able to discern things at a distance. Discretion, the more it is discovered, gives a greater authority to the person who possesses it. Cunning, when it is once detected, loses its force, and makes a man incapable of bringing about even those events which he might have done, had he passed only for a plain man. Discretion is the perfection of reason, and a guide to us in all the duties of life: cunning is a kind of instinct, that only looks out after our immediate interest and welfare. Discretion is only found in men of strong sense and good understandings: cunning is often to be met with in brutes themselves, and in persons who are the fewest removes from them. In short, cunning is only the mimic of discretion, and may pass upon weak men in the same manner as vivacity is often mistaken for wit, and gravity for wisdom.
X-TRUTH AND SINCERITY.
Truth and sincerity have all the advantages of appearance, and many more. If the show of any thing be good for any thing, I am sure the reality is better; for why does any man dissemble, or seem to be that which he is not, but because he thinks it good to have the qualities he pretends to? For to counterfeit and to dissemble is, to put on the appearance of some real excellency. Now the best way for a man to seem to be any thing, is really to be what he would seem to be. Besides, it is often as troublesome to support the pretence of a good quality as to have it; and if a man have it not, it is most likely he will be discovered to want it, and then all his labour to seem to have it is lost. There is something unnatural in painting, which a skilful eye will easily discern from native beauty and complexion.
It is hard to personate and act a part long; for where truth is not at the bottom, nature will always be endeavouring to return, and will betray herself at one time or other. Therefore if any man think it convenient to seem good, let him be so indeed, and then his goodness will appear to every one's satisfaction; for truth is convincing, and carries its own light and evidence along with it, and will not only commend us to every man's conscience, but, which is much more, to God, who searcheth our hearts. So that upon all accounts sincerity is true wisdom. Particularly as to the affairs of this world, integrity hath many advantages over all the artificial modes of dissimulation and deceit. It is much the plainer and easier, much the safer and more secure way of dealing in the world; it has less of trouble and difficulty, of entanglement and perplexity, of danger and hazard in it; it is the shortest and nearest way to our end, carrying us thither in a straight line, and will hold out and last longest. The arts of deceit and cunning continually grow weaker and less effectual and serviceable to those that practise them ; whereas integrity gains strength by use, and the more and longer any man practiseth it, the greater service it does him, by confirming his reputation, and encouraging those with whom he hath to do, to repose the greatest confidence in him, which is an unspeakable advantage in business and the affairs of life.
A dissembler must always be upon his guard, and watch himself carefully, that he do not contradict his own pretensions; for he acts an unnatural part, and therefore must put a continual force and restraint upon himself. Whereas he that acts sincerely hath the easiest task in the world; because he follows nature, and so is put to no trouble and care about his words and actions; he needs not invent any pretences beforehand, nor make excuse afterwards, for any thing he has said or done.
But insincerity is very troublesome to manage; a hypocrite hath so many things to attend to, as make his life a very perplexed and intricate thing. A liar hath need of a good memory, lest he contradict at one time what he said at another: but truth is always consistent with itself, and needs nothing to help it out; it is always near at hand, and sits upon our lips; whereas a lie is troublesome, and needs a great many more to make it good.
Add to all this, that sincerity is the most compendious wisdom, and an excellent instrument for the speedy despatch of business. It creates confidence in those we have to deal with, saves the labour of many inquiries, and brings things to an issue in few words. It is like travelling in a plain beaten road, which commonly brings a man sooner to his journey’s end than by-ways, in which men often lose themselves. In a word, whatsoever convenience may be thought to be in falsehood and dissimulation, it is soon over ; but the inconvenience of it is perpetual, because it brings a man under an everlasting jealousy and suspicion, so that he is not believed when he speaks truth, nor trusted when perhaps he means honestly. When a man hath once forfeited the reputation of his integrity, nothing will then serve his turn, neither truth nor falsehood.
Indeed, if a man were only to deal in the world for a day, and should never have occasion to converse more with man. kind, never more need their good opinion or good word, it were then no great matter (as far as respects the affairs of this world) if he spent his reputation all at once, and ventured it at one throw. But if he be to continue in the world, and would have the advantage of reputation whilst he is in it, let him make use of truth and sincerity in all his words and actions, for nothing but this will hold out to the end. All other arts may fail; but truth and integrity will carry a man through, and bear him out to the last.
XI.-ON DIGNITY OF MANNERS.
THERE is a certain dignity of manners absolutely necessary, to make even the most valuable character either respected or respectable.
Horse-play, romping, frequent and loud fits of laughter, jokes, waggery, and indiscriminate familiarity, will sink both merit and knowledge into a degree of contempt. They compose at most a merry fellow; and a merry fellow was never yet a respectable man. Indiscriminate familiarity either offends your superiors, or else dubs you their dependent, and led captain. It gives your inferiors just, but troublesome and improper claims of equality. A joker is
near akin to a buffoon; and neither of them is the least related to wit. Whoever is admitted or sought for in company, upon any other account than that of his merit and manners, is never respected there, but only made use of. We will have such one, for he sings prettily; we will invite such a one to a ball, for he dances well; we will have such a one at supper, for he is always joking and laughing ; we will ask another, because he plays deep at all games, or because he can drink a great deal. These are all vilifying distinctions, mortifying preferences, and exclude all ideas of esteem and regard. Whoever is had (as it is called) in company for the sake of any one thing singly, is singly that thing, and will never be considered in any other light; consequently never respected, let his merits be what they will.
This dignity of manners, which I recommend so much to you, is not only as different from pride, as true courage is from blustering, or true wit from joking, but is absolutely inconsistent with it; for nothing vilifies and degrades more than pride. The pretensions of the proud man are oftener treated with sneer and contempt, than with indignation : as we offer ridiculously too little to a tradesman, who asks ridiculously to much for his goods; but we do not haggle with one who only asks a just and reasonable price.
Abject flattery and indiscriminate assentation degrade, as much as indiscriminate contradiction and noisy debate disgust. But a modest assertion of one's own opinion, and a complaisant acquiescence in other people's, preserve dignity.
Vulgar, low expressions, awkward motions and address, vilify, as they imply either a very low turn of mind, or low education, and low
company. Frivolous curiosity about trifles, and a laborious attention to the little objects, which neither require nor deserve a moment's thought, lower a man; who from thence is thought (and not unjustly) incapable of greater matters. Cardinal de Retz very sagaciously marked out Cardinal Chigi for a little mind, from the moment that he told him he had written